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The Tribe

On the Pulitzers

i wish I could focus on the fact that Silent Night, which I will see at the Opera Company of Philadelphia in February 2013, won the Pulitzer Prize in Music but of course if you follow the news in the publishing world, you will know that everyone is talking about the board's decision not to award a fiction prize this year. The decision means big dollars lost for booksellers, as Ann Patchett points out in her op-ed for the New York Times.

It is also embarrassing for the two finalists who are still alive (the third one is deceased), and especially the one of the two whose book has become a bestseller, to be told in such unceremonious terms that their novel may have been good enough to make the short list but didn't deserve to get the prize, even if none other did.

But I also wonder whether readers will notice. If you see a book cover in the bookstore with "Pulitzer Prize winner" embossed on it, you will certainly be more likely to pick it up, but if you don't see such a cover, you may not even think about it - you'll simply continue browsing, and if you really want to buy an award-winning book, other prize-winners will beacon. You might assume the bookstore ran out of copies of the Pulitzer-winning book.

Shrewd businesspeople in the book trade should publicize the list of finalists and ask for a popular vote. This would create demand for all three books. Cities already have programs such as "One book, one Philadelphia", where a single book is selected for a whole city to read and discuss. The Pulitzer brouhaha would make a great opportunity to engage readers in discussing what makes a great book.

According to Goodreads, Swamplandia has a low average rating of 3.17 (over 8,588 votes) while Train Dreams, with 1,007 votes, averages a much higher 3.92 and The Pale King, with 2,227 ratings, averages 3.98 (as of April 19). This suggests Swamplandia would come in third, while the other two are locked in a tie. I will have to buy both.

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